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How united were the Big Three at the Yalta Conference in 1945?

Source 5

Extract from a copy of a telegram from Churchill to President Roosevelt, 27 March 1945, marked “Personal and Top Secret”


CHAR 20/213A/56-57

Simplified Transcript

We are upset because what we agreed at Yalta seems to be getting changed. We agreed to create a new government for Poland with members from all sides. This way everyone would be happy with the new situation. We have offered various Polish names but Stalin and the Russians have not given their response, claiming a lack of information, even though we have supplied plenty of information. One Power should not be allowed to refuse all our nominations. We gave names in the spirit of the conference, which was that they could not be refused.

Stalin knows that if we can’t agree on the new government then we won’t be able to work with them in the future.

Original Transcript

We are distressed that the work of the Polish Commission is held up because misunderstandings have arisen about the interpretation of the Yalta decisions. The agreed purpose of those decisions was that a new Government of National Unity was to be established after consultations with representatives of Lublin and other Democratic Poles which both our Governments could recognise. We have not got any reply on the various Polish names we have suggested, pleading lack of information. We have given him plenty of information. There ought not to be a veto by one Power on all nominations. We consider that our nominations for the discussions have been made in the spirit of confidence which befits Allies; and of course there could be no question of allowing Lublin to bar them.

Stalin will understand that the whole point of the Yalta decision was to produce a Polish Government we could recognise and that we obviously cannot therefore deal with the present administration.

What is this source?

This source is an extract from a “personal and top secret” telegram from Churchill to Roosevelt on 27 March 1945, asking for assistance in convincing Stalin to change his tactics on discussions about Poland after Yalta. Churchill maintained a strong relationship with Roosevelt and relied on him to help broker deals with Stalin.

Background to this source

After the Yalta Conference it emerged that many of the ‘final decisions’ reached were really only decisions of broad principles and outlines. The British and Americans believed that Poland would be able to set up a government which represented the different sections and interests within Polish society. The Soviets had other ideas and wanted Poland to be controlled by governments loyal to Stalin. As a result, once they got to detailed negotiations the broad agreement reached at Yalta began to show strain. Churchill was becoming exasperated at the lack of progress and once again called on Roosevelt to assist him in putting pressure on the USSR (and Stalin in particular) to see things his way.

How can we use this source in the investigation?

Remember we are hoping that this source can be useful to us in investigating how far the Yalta Conference showed unity between the Big Three on the future of Poland. Sources usually help historians in two ways:

Surface level: details, facts and figures

  1. What was the decision made about the new Polish Government at Yalta?
  2. Who does Churchill want to include in the new government?
  3. What are Churchill’s fears for the new government if changes are not made?

Deeper level: inferences and using the source as evidence

Which of the inferences below can be made from this source?

On a scale of 1-5 how far do you agree that this source supports this inference? Which extract(s) from the source support your argument?
Churchill is losing faith in the agreement at Yalta.

Churchill can influence Stalin on his own.

Churchill feels that the USSR are deliberately slowing negotiations.

Churchill doesn’t want Stalin to think that he is being more difficult and negative than Roosevelt.

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Need help interpreting the source?

  • What does Churchill mean when he refers to being able to ‘recognise’ the new Polish Government?
  • Why does Churchill suggest he can’t work with the Polish Government in its present form?
  • Churchill refers to the ‘spirit of the conference’ and implies that it has been broken. What does he mean by this phrase?
  • Coming over a month after the conclusion of the Yalta conference what does this letter suggest about the relationship between the Western Allies and their USSR counterparts?

Explore the guide to interpreting telegrams

Source 6

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